I often wonder how Untitled (Go-go Dancing Platform), 1991, fits into Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ oeuvre. The Cuban born artist is famous for his candy piles, stacks of posters (for both examples, the viewers are encouraged to take a piece), puzzle postcards, and billboards. He also created something entirely different. A beautiful baby-blueish gray box with burning lightbulbs on the edges is something that is always present. Something (someone) that is not present at all times, is a go-go dancer in a shiny silver speedo, who is doing a little dance on the dancefloor. Silent disco-style, because he is the only one who hears the music in his headphones.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ work in general, rejects a closure of meaning. It has a brilliant conceptual and foundation, derived from many philosophers. But it’s not instructional and he always says that the meaning of the work is constructed by the viewer. As he said: “I need a viewer. I need a public for that work to exist […] without a public this work has no meaning. […] This work is about an interaction with the public, or a large collaboration.”
He did explain that he doesn’t want to make work that conveys an obvious political message. He didn’t want to be the easy enemy of the conservative right, plus he didn’t think it would be effective. “If you say, I’m political, I’m ideological, that’s not going to work, because people think they know where you are coming from. But if you say, “Hi! My name is Bob and this is it,” then they say, that’s not political. It’s invisible and it really works.”
So, the most successful political artists are the ones that don’t look political. According to FGT, it’s about looking natural and about being the normative aspect of the culture one is dealing with.
This is the reason I find Untitled (Go-go Dancing Platform) not fitting in. For some reason, it just feels more openly political. It’s not that it is overtly policial, I’m not even sure which political message it ought to be. But a half-naked person dancing in silver lamé speedo (it doesn’t need to be a male dancer but it usually is) just doesn’t look like the normative aspect of the culture of the 90’s, especially since it is made at the height of the AIDS crisis. Don’t get me wrong, I think it should be part of the normative aspect of culture. But in his other works, I could identify a different and slightly more subtle approach. He stated that being able to create affect would imply a strategy in which it didn’t look like an ideological construction. Because, if it’s invisible, he would have been able to infiltrate and when he would be inside, he would be capable of enabling change.
Robert Storr, who was a curator at the MoMA when FGT was active, has noted that one could notice a certain tension between the desired when it’s present and when it’s absent. The box itself is already beautiful, but something is missing. He has stated: “Whether one actually hungers for the discoing male body is subordinate to the fascination these rudimentary techniques create, a fascination that highlights the ways in which lust for material goods is charged by the subliminal metamorphosis and displacement of erotic energy.” Well, that was a mouthful. I think he means that this work reveals the way that the need for material goods is actually charged by a shift in erotic energy. This is one of the possible interpretations.
Another interpretation might be that it is a gay political statement. His 1989 billboard at 7th Avenue and Christopher Street was just placed two years before. This piece was a more obvious political statement because of its location (Christopher Street was famous for being the most celebrated gay strip and is close to the site of the 1969 Stonewall riots)
His billboards are a result of his interest in dealing with the notion of public and/or private. This one contained a timeline which pins down some important dates for political activism, such as “Police Harassment 1969” and “People With AIDS Coalition 1985”. FGT has pointed out that: “Someone’s agenda has been enacted to define “public” and “private.” We’re really talking about private property because there is no private space anymore. Our intimate desires, fantasies, and dreams are ruled and intercepted by the public sphere. FGT probably referred to the Bowers v. Hardwick Supreme Court decision. The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not protect the right of gay adults to engage in private, consensual sodomy. In this way, Untitled (Go-go Dancing Platform) could be about the tension between the public and the private sphere. Something that is usually private, performed in the public sphere.
But no one actually knows, which is fine. He used to tell the viewer: “You are responsible for the final meaning” He liked that ‘in-between-ness’ that would make the work difficult.
His work – again – rather lingers in the in-between-ness of critical provocation and the democratic structure of meaning. This ambiguity is also – again – the point where its power resides. So in fact, this work does very well fit into Felix Gonzalez-Torres oeuvre.
You can see the performance here: